Corbin's gritty start provides silver lining

October 4th, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- 's postseason debut was a long time coming.

In 2017, the 30-year-old left-hander had been slated to start for the D-backs in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Dodgers. He never got the ball, as Los Angeles ultimately swept Arizona in three games.

Corbin craved more opportunities to pitch in October, which played into his decision to sign a six-year, $140 million contract with the Nationals this past offseason. When he finally got the nod on Thursday night, he delivered.

Corbin overcame a stressful 31-pitch first inning to produce a quality start for the Nationals, though his effort went for naught after the Dodgers rolled to a 6-0 win in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.

Corbin held the Dodgers’ formidable lineup to two runs (one earned) on three hits over six innings, but he received no run support and also saw first baseman Howie Kendrick commit two errors behind him, one of which led to an unearned run in the fifth inning.

“I feel bad for Pat,” Kendrick said. “He threw a nice game. A couple mistakes on my behalf out there. That’s part of the game, but you never want to let your teammates down or do anything in the game that can give the other team the advantage. Pat got us out of a couple jams. We weren’t able to put up any runs tonight.”

Corbin endured a difficult start to his first playoff appearance, as he struggled to locate his slider in the first inning and issued four walks, allowing the Dodgers to take an early 1-0 lead without putting the ball in play.

It marked the first time in Corbin’s seven-year career that he walked four batters in a single inning. The only other pitcher in the last 10 years to walk four in an inning of a postseason game was former Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez, who walked four in the second inning of Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS against the Cardinals.

“I felt fine,” Corbin said. “I just thought, mechanically, I was rushing a little bit. I was kind of cutting my fastball. I thought later on I was able to get back to my sinker, and everything else felt pretty good after that.”

Corbin managed to rectify the issue by keeping his front shoulder in for the remainder of his outing, an adjustment that helped him pitch deep into the game despite the inauspicious start to his night.

He retired seven consecutive batters before Max Muncy singled to lead off the fourth, giving the Dodgers their first hit of the night. Corey Seager followed with another base hit to put runners on the corners with no outs, but Corbin came back to strike out Will Smith and Walker Buehler and coax a groundout from A.J. Pollock to extricate himself from the jam.

“After that first inning, he was dynamite,” manager Dave Martínez said. “In the first inning, I think he got a little amped up. His front side was opening up a little bit, and he couldn't get the call. He was spiking a lot -- when he starts spiking his sliders like that and his fastball's just running all over, it's usually because he's opening up. He did the first inning, and then he settled down. Man, he was really good there for a while.”

Corbin struck out David Freese and Justin Turner to start the fifth and got ahead, 0-2, against Cody Bellinger. But the Dodgers’ center fielder laid off four consecutive sliders to draw a two-out walk and later scored on Kendrick’s error to extend the Dodgers’ lead to 2-0.

“I thought they were good takes on some good sliders there,” Corbin said. “I thought later in the game they were trying to lay off that slider a little more.”

Corbin took the mound in the sixth with his pitch count at 98, but he needed only nine pitches to retire Seager, Smith and Kiké Hernández and end his outing on a high note. Corbin kept the Nationals within striking distance, but the game grew further out of reach after he handed it over to the bullpen, as Tanner Rainey and Hunter Strickland combined to surrender four runs.

It may not be the last the Dodgers see of Corbin this October, as he’d be a candidate to return and start Game 5, if the series extends that long.

“He was tough on them,” shortstop Trea Turner said. “He kept us in the ballgame, gave us a chance. That's what I always say -- if our pitchers can keep us in the ballgame and give us a chance, that's all we can ask for.”